I got excited about Pokemon Go this time last year after downloading the game to "See what all the fuss was about" after a fantastic early experience which matched John Hankes aims I felt that the all elusive "Product Market fit" had been achieved (See Pokemon Go Tech Vs Policy Makers).
The exact same can be said of my Spy Quest experience with my son.
As the meeting was in a book shop I thought I'd pick up Spy Quests Polybius and get through the first couple of chapters.
Not sure if this was intentional or not but the opening chapter being set in the 1980s provides a bit of nostalgia for the grown ups reading to their kids in the way that Wreck it Ralph does (For more about this meeting please see Spy Quest Mission - Part I).
No Way Man! Too Cool!
The day after my first meeting with David and I take my son out for a walk specifically to talk about my meeting with David.
The reason? Because we tell our kids that they can do anything they set their mind to and Mr Goucher and Agent Jones exemplifies this!!
I tell him about everything from my previous post about Spy Quest. Books are very important to us so to be able to say that David became a police officer because of the books that he read helps demonstrate one of our mantras very well:
"That Books are the most powerful weapons in the world"
(We tell our kids that their words are the most powerful things in the world and that books are the most powerful weapons).
Of course they will come up with all kinds of "Ah what about swords, guns and bombs etc, etc"
"Well what would you do if you wanted to make a sword or gun or bomb, how would you make one?" We'll ask.
"I'd get a book about it" Point made. Thank you very much! Lol.
We discuss how getting into the police took 6 years and that his growth mindset saw him become a real life spy guy... and now he's training kids to be spy guys.
I discuss how people loved playing Spy Quest when they were on holiday so much that they told Disney to check it out. I told him that he's worked with Stan Lee's right hand man, Andy Briggs.
I talk about the plot of the first book about the Polybuis urban legend and how the hero of the book wins a contest because he's good at computer games.
NO WAY MAN!! TOO COOL!!
If I worked at a school I'd most definitely arrange for David to stop by to talk about his books, as well as to discuss his work as a police officer and to run a Spy Quest mission!!
We agree to stop by the book shop to get the book.
Chapter 1 - Hooked!
Having a house full of gamer boys the plot soon has his imagination, especially as he can identify with the frustrations of being interrupted with one of his games, as the young hero of Polybuis does by his sister.
The book and David's story sure has his imagination fired up as we read the first few chapters.
Chapter 2 - Family Fun
When we come across the first Spy Quest code in the book we get the whole family involved. When was the last time that the 16 and 14 year old willingly did something that their little brother was doing?
Now let me think? Oh yeah. This time last year with Pokemon Go.
Everyone gives the code a go with some interesting (And by 'Interesting' I mean in a "we'd-be-rubbish-spy-guy-kind-of-way") results.
Isaac is keen to know if his code was right and asks if I can send it to David.
Chapter 3 - Mysterious Call
The day that I send it a mysterious message appears on Skype. It simply says
"Agent Isaac, I need your help" Agent Jones.
Just like the book we wonder about how Agent Jones was able to get in touch with him? How did they know our Skype username? We also wonder why Isaac and not any one else in the house was contacted? "
"Maybe it's because kids make the best spy guys... Just like the book!" Isaac exclaims.
Isaac puts on the headset and takes the call there is an intense look of seriousness on his face, something that the one word answers and "Ah! Yeah! Yes!" comments don't convey.
Agent Jones then speaks to me and says in a very professional and matter of fact tone
"Agent Isaac has a mission at 10am tomorrow morning... Log onto the Spy Quest website then for further instructions"
Chapter 4 - I will Say this Only Once
At precisely 10:00 We log into the website. There are 4 missions all are related to the first Spy Quest book.
It's all very cloak and danger stuff as I'm the only one in the house that's allowed to know what's going on.
"Right what's your password?" I whisper
A blank face. Well that's not the best start to his "I will say this only once" Spy guy career. Lol! Dad offers a helping hand.
NB It's worth noting that the next day he blurts out the password when we're reading the book and he exclaims "It must have been because of a code/subliminal message in the book that made me remember it" Clever Agent Jones, he's thought of everything and knows his young proteges are just starting out so has a reminder coded into his books.
Chapter 5 - The Kindness Brief
When we log in we are met with a message that says he's been selected for his spy guy qualities and because he is
"Kind and thoughtful and never gives up"
There is more of a big deal about the second paragraph than the first in our house... So high fives all round.
Chapter 6 - Mission Disaster... Intense Reading!
We check out the first mission. We have one hour to answer a question about a chapter that we have not read yet so we check it out. We type in the answer but "The Computer says 'No'"
Eh? We think to ourselves?
Maybe it's a test. Maybe we need to answer the questions using one of the codes? Nope?
Maybe there's a hidden field? Not that we can see.
The time runs out for mission #1 and the same thing happens for mission #2.
My young Spy guy is crestfallen. Fortunately we had just read a part of Polybius where the young hero also had a bad start to his career as an undercover agent.
I highlight that both questions were parts of the book that we had not read yet, and suggest we read more of the book so we're ready for the next two missions.
What followed is what Joy from Inside Out might term a "Core Memory" we snuggled up and some of the most active reading and listening that I've ever had with my kids followed. Along with all kinds of questions and Spy guy ideas.
We read half the book in one sitting.
Chapter 7 - Initiative
After reading the book Isaac wonders if Torraz and Boris have hacked the SQA website and asks if he can Skype the answers to the first 2 missions to Agent Jones.
Mission 3 and 4 are completed on time, without drama and using the more conventional communication channel of the Spy Quest website.
Chapter 8 - Imitation Game
It's always fantastic when we can use age appropriate books to introduce some grown up themes.
We used Yertle the Turtle to introduce the kids to Rose Parks and the Civil Rights movement.
When talking about cracking codes and the debt that we owe to the people who keep us safe where else would you start?
There was some active learning going on when we discussed Alan Turing's work.
(Not to trivalise Turing's work but there have also been links made in films like National Treasure too).
Chapter 9 - Active Learning: Comprehension
I hated comprehension at school. Today I understand that it's called "Close Reading." What didn't help was the text chosen. Sunset Song in education has a lot to answer for!
Through Spy Quest Isaac has had the best introduction possible to reading comprehension.
But let's be clear here. While this was a great book before Agent Jones' call... Agent Jones brought the whole thing to life.
How and why did he do this?
How: By treating kids like adults and believing they are capable of more than we give them credit for.
Why: I'll refer you to my "Pinned Tweet" and earlier post to let you know "The Why"
"David if I was to say something along the lines of:
The reason I am doing this is because the books that I read as a child helped me to find my place in the world and I'd like to pay it forward to help others do the same?'
Would that be an accurate statement? "Pretty much"
Chapter 10 - Confidence
Now I'm not sure if this applies to me or Isaac but the result is the same.
I've definitely seen this young lads chest a little more puffed out and more of an "I can do that." Or is it that seeing him with more of an "I can do that" attitude, I'm letting him?
In the Famous Five and other books our kids had a lot more freedom as the fear of risk was nowhere near it was today.
Richard Branson discussed how much being dropped off in a field close to his Grandmothers house at 4 was both scary and empowering as was cycling from London to Brighton (or was it Bournemouth) when he was 14.
"My mother was determined to make us independent. When I was four, she stopped the car a few miles from our house and made me find my own way home across the fields." Richard Branson Losing My Virginity
Today parents get criticised for letting their kids ride in the New York subway alone (Why I let my 9 Year Old Ride the Subway Alone).
Pokemon Go saw our streets being packed and strangers interacting with one another.
Will Spy Quest see our kids reclaim the streets?
Or would it be more appropriate to ask:
Will Spy Quest see parents allowing our kids to reclaim the streets?
Acknowledgement - User Experience
This post and the experiences of Polybius would not be possible if it was not for the way the author treats the user experience.
While he is building a business it is obvious that nothing gives him more pleasure than speaking to fans... whether meeting existing ones at book signings or winning over new ones through school visits.
I know that ours is by no means a unique experience. The books are great but the way the author treats his reads brings the books to life.
PS Regarding bringing the books to life if you download the Spy Quest app and scan the pictures in the book you'll get some cool messages. Why not make a bigger deal of this cutting edge aspect of the book?
1) I'm big on my old school physical books without all the gadgets and gizmos, and
2) The author does more to bring the books to life than any technology could
... But here's an ad with the AR aspect of the game anyway ;)